What is a cooperative?

There are many different types of cooperatives, or co-ops for short. Many businesses are worker co-ops, where the workers own the business (rather than having a single owner.) This also means that the workers establish the conditions of their labor. Another type is a buying cooperative, wherein individuals contribute equal amounts of money to buy goods, such as bulk food, at much lower prices than if each person made the same purchase on their own. So, the basic idea behind co-ops is that people join together, share resources equally and use collective strength so each member benefits more than could be accomplished individually.

Housing cooperatives have the same basic principle of member control. There are several types of housing cooperatives. Most housing cooperatives are full equity, which means that each member owns part of the building or land, and gains equity as the property increases in value. This requires a more substantial buy-in to be part of the cooperative.

MCC’s cooperatives follow a group equity model where individuals do not actually gain equity through their participation. Instead, the equity is accumulated by the cooperative as a whole and can be used to support the growth of additional co-ops. MCC is a non-profit which owns the land and buildings, and each member pays a fee to join the cooperative. MCC owns 11 cooperative houses in Madison, and members live together in these houses.

Residents make decisions together, such as selecting new members, electing representatives, and deciding where to shop for groceries. Co-ops function successfully when they are made up of responsible people willing to commit time and problem-solve when challenges arise. One huge advantage of cooperative living is that when problems do arise, you are not facing them alone; you have the collective resources and creativity of other members of the co-op behind you.

One unique part of living in a co-op is the equal sharing of resources, chores, and responsibilities. Each co-op member is responsible for an equal share of work. Some work jobs might be gardening, food preparation, house maintenance, cleaning, and meeting facilitation. House members decide what jobs are important and find a way to distribute chores evenly.

MCC houses are set up for communal living. Members each have their own bedrooms; other areas such as the kitchen, living room, and bathrooms might be shared. These areas are called common space, and it is here that members can enjoy a vibrant, active community. Co-ops offer stability and community without a financial risk or high investment.